Ironbark Mystery

This week I found some E Sideroxylon trees in a park with lots of low hanging leaves… too tempting.  So I harvested some.  I brought them home and made leaf prints.  I have obtained strong oranges from these leaves in the past, so imagine my surprise when I unwrapped them and saw this:

This is on the silk-faced side of a hemp and silk blend.  It did confirm for me that the silk-faced side should be the right side.  Here, on hemp-cotton blend:

Disappointed, I considered the possible reasons.  Perhaps those pipes were not cast iron but something else?  I didn’t think so. I re-checked that I still have my cast iron pipes stored separately from my welded steel pipes… yes.  Hmmm.  But then I checked the dye pot using the same leaves, that I was cooking at the same time as the leaf prints.  And the wool was barely tan, almost no colour at all.

So, the metal content of the pipe is not the explanation.  The leaves that had been cooking for 3 hours or more were still green looking.  The dye liquor was barely tan.  I would expect the leaves to be orange and the dye liquor to be strongly coloured.

What could explain this?  I went back to my sample cards to check I really had ever had success with E Sideroxylon and there were my samples, bright orange.  There are a lot of variables in natural dyeing, and season or rainfall or soil could make a difference, but surely not this much of a difference.  The most plausible reason is that this tree was not E Sideroxylon, and that when I have had perplexing results in the past, they have also been caused by using a different species.  So, I consulted my most detailed and sophisticated Eucalypt resource, Euclid.  This is a database of Eucalypts created by the CSIRO, an Australian government-funded scientific research organisation.  Euclid is an amazing tool, but when using it to identify a Eucalypt, an accurate result depends on accurate observations of the tree in question–so user error is still possible.

When I began learning about Eucalypts, I couldn’t tell an ironbark from a stringybark (for those still in this position, please accept my assurance that the difference is quite profound once you grasp it).  I finally worked this out when I tryed dyeing with E Melanophloia and got nothing.  Almost no change in colour.  I thought it was E Cinerea, which has a great reputation as a dye plant.  Well, Melanophoia is a pale trunked ironbark and Cinerea is a stringybark.  They do both have rough, deeply furrowed bark and silver grey heart or round shaped leaves and white-cream flowers, and there the similarity ends!

So… perhaps I am about to move my understanding of Ironbarks up a few notches.  Euclid and my observations reduced the number of possibilities down to 7 (from a possible pool of over 900 Eucalypts).  The plausible candidates are: E Rhombica; E Fibrosa subsp Nubila (Blue Leaved Ironbark); E Decorticans; E Fibrosa subsp Fibrosa (Broad leaved Red Ironbark) and, of course, E Sideroxylon.  I think E Fibrosa subsp Fibrosa is my front-running candidate… it looks very much like E Sideroxylon to me on Euclid even now my suspicions are raised.

Next thrilling update whenever I reach some new insight!  Unfortunately none of these new possibilities are in my ready reference (a book), so I may be observed under trees in the neighbourhood with my laptop in hand.  Well, it won’t be the first time.


Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Ironbark Mystery

  1. indiedyer

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve heard of Euclid, but it’s too expensive for me to access and sadly, it’s not available through my uni. Lately, I had a similar experience with the only eucalyptus in my garden that I can actually identify – citriodora. Normally, I get a very nice deep orange from the leaves. But apparently not always… I’m so intrigued by what I can learn from you, so thanks again!


    • Hi Indiedyer… you get orange from E Citriodora? I am amazed by that–I have never got any colour to speak of from it, and you’re right, it is one of the easiest to identify. I’ll have to try it again 🙂


      • indiedyer

        Yes, it’s the only one that yields orange, as yet. We have about 15 different trees in the garden, and I’m working my way down the alley, so to speak. Interestingly, the citriodora did not yield orange EVERY time. I have picked fresh leaves, collected them from broken branches after high winds, and also picked them up after they’d fallen naturally – BUT – I don’t remember which is which because I never take notes. That will change now that I’m inspired by your approach 🙂


      • I tried E Citriodora again today and still got nothing to speak of, and nothing close to orange. More like pale tan. Interesting!


  2. Salvital

    ahhhh, the science experiments continue. It’s quite nice having a nerd wandering the neighbourhood gazing at the trees with laptop in hand…


  3. Glad someone appreciates it…


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